The Galapagos Incident
The Kalashnikovs had been printed right here on 11073 Galapagos; they were made of the same tough plastic that the Galapajin used for everything from spacesuit parts to furniture. The ammunition had arrived via the tunnel in the Yonezawas’ basement. The guns had originally been intended for use against Bishop Okada and his yes-men in the yakusho [mayor’s office]. The plot had never got beyond the half-assed planning stage, but Jun’s arrest had revived enthusiasm for it, as he found out when he reached Cathedral End.
This region of the habitat was like a rocky canyon, so narrow that the sun-tube had made permanent scorch marks on the walls closest to it. The canyon dead-ended at the cathedral airlock; this side of the airlock was the construction staging site. The Order of St. Benedict had long since taken over the area, as they were in charge of construction. They had dug a warren of caves in the walls of the canyon, where they lived in monastic simplicity, girls and boys strictly separated.
Now the whole canyon teemed with kids with guns. In the grey pre-dawn light, they clung to the walls like flies and floated in the freefall zone. Some of them were even perching on the gigantic solar battery at the end of the sun-tube. They swarmed him like a returning hero.
“Are we going to overthrow the hierarchy now?”
“We are not,” Jun said. “We’re going to evacuate the asteroid.”
They stared at him blankly. This was their world. How did you evacuate the world?
Through their eyes, Jun himself momentarily reverted to seeing it as an impossible task, but he reminded himself of what Kirin had said, and repeated it to them. “Our ancestors planned for this. We can’t let them down by refusing to even try.”
Ushijima’s words came back to him— We’ve got a mission … We’ve forgotten what we’re supposed to be living for …
“You, you, you and you, go to the yakusho and get them to make an announcement. Most important thing is, no one is to bring more stuff than they can carry.”
He gave them all their instructions, based on the evacuation plan handed down by the founders of the Order, which had long ago been dismissed as a quaint relic of the colony’s early years. When they had scattered, he booted up one of the construction crew’s robots, an eight-legged crawler, and loaded its platform with equipment. The sun-tube brightened, casting shadows that sharpened by the moment. Flecks of ore glittered in the rocks. Birdsong filled the unnatural silence, as starlings and pigeons pecked for insects in the tufts of grass that grew out of the cracks.
Jun put on an EVA suit and headed for the cathedral airlock. The crawler lurched after him, holding its load on with its foremost pair of legs. They hadn’t used the airlock since they pressurized the interior of the cathedral, but he cranked the handle, just to make sure it still worked.
Sister Emily-Francis bounced in through the hatch before it closed. She was wearing another of their bright yellow, communally owned EVA suits. “You’ll need some help,” she said.
They fell into eye-smacking beauty. Saints, angels, and martyrs rioted around the bases of a forest of pillars radiating from the walls of the vast, spherical space into its center, where they supported a geodesic lattice that marked off the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself was still under construction, shrouded in protective mesh to catch splinters from work in progress.
Jun had hoped to see the cathedral completed in his lifetime, filled with worshippers. Now he forced himself to imagine it filled with refugees.
Leaving Emily-Francis behind, he flew through moist, frigid air and prised up a panel of aged pine, which lay flush against its neighbors without the benefit of nails or glue, a feat of traditional Japanese carpentry. Underneath the panel was a layer of insulation. Jun scratched that up with his gloves to reveal a dull pink sheet of self-healing graphene composite.
That looked right. But how could he know that the information in the evacuation plan was accurate? He couldn’t. He just had to believe.
He flew back to Emily-Francis. “Why are you still here?”
“I was waiting for you,” she said irritably.
They clamped on their helmets and went out via the ‘front door,’ another airlock. Jun switched on his handheld seismic scanner, loaded the heirloom file Kirin had pointed him to, and pointed the scanner at the slope from which the cathedral rose like a stone fountain. He began to walk slowly, watching the screen. Emily-Francis followed him, leading the crawler like a large dog.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” he said over the radio.
“There wasn’t anyone else,” she responded.
They were no longer talking about the job in hand. But Jun was drained of emotion; he had no energy for this fight.
“I have a religious vocation,” he said.
“So do I,” she said. “But I sometimes wonder why so many of us do. More than in our parents’ generation.”
“I think it’s God’s way of limiting our population. He inspired us to choose celbacy so that we wouldn’t outbreed our carrying capacity.”
“That makes sense. It also sounds kind of sacrilegious.”
“Well, it was Ushijima-kun’s idea. Father Hirayanagi said he might be right, who knows?”
There was silence in Jun’s helmet. The seismic scanner found the first of the shear points flagged on the ancient file. “Get the drill.”
Halfway through drilling, Jun realized he was going to need more explosive. He sent Emily-Francis back in with the crawler to fetch it. While she was gone, he switched the scanner into radar mode and panned it across the sky.
Venus blotted out all the stars near it, seeming to float in a halo of pitch darkness. The asteroid spun back into sunlight, and Jun’s faceplate filter darkened, allowing him a microsecond glimpse of 11073 Galapagos in its true colors of silver, rusty red, and warning-yellow, before everything sank into artificial twilight. The radar scanner ticked and beeped. Nothing moving out there. Of course, the PLAN might have some advanced cloaking technology that would hide them from radar detection. He didn’t know what was technically possible these days.
“If they don’t show up, I’m going to feel like an idiot,” he said over the radio to Emily-Francis, whom he had just spotted coming back.
But something was wrong with her silhouette. She wasn’t wearing a spacesuit. A slim, perfect female figure leapt over the regolith towards him, through clouds of dust falling back to the surface.
For a second Jun’s brain overheated like a jammed gun. Then he realized it was the phavatar. She didn’t need a spacesuit. She crashed into him, grabbing his shoulder to halt herself, with the result that they both wheeled off into space.
“You could just keep going,” Jun said, pulling them back to the surface by his tether, glove over glove. “We’ve lost a few people that way.”
“Sorry. I thought I had it under control.”
“Trying to get the dynamite out of the shrinkfoam wrap. I swear, the first person who invents a better type of vacuum-proof packaging will be a gazillionaire.”
“Why aren’t you wearing a spacesuit?”
“Emily-Francis refused to give me one. I think she was under the impression that that would stop me from coming outside.” The phavatar grinned. “So what are you up to?”
“None of your business.”
She glanced at his radar scanner. “Hmm. Has this rock got any defensive capabilities? I scanned the surface, but I couldn’t see merda. Just a few docking clamps. You got any ships to go with them?”
Jun pointed his Kalashnikov at her. The fact was he didn’t trust her any more than he had before. His faith in the sacrament of baptism was less powerful than his belief that this thing intended them harm. “Like I’d fucking tell you anything, just so that you can tell it to the PLAN?”
“Ah ha, ah-ha-ha-ha,” the phavatar said. “Don’t be ignorant. I work for the UN, as I’ve told you a thousand times.”
“Same difference.” They were alone out here. No one was watching. No one would know any different if he said that she’d misjudged her step and gone flying off into space. He shot her.
Her hand was in front of her face; he hadn’t seen it move. She lowered it and opened her fingers to reveal his projectile. It was mushroom-shaped.
Jun suddenly felt very tired, enervated by the thought that this thing was massively more powerful than he had thought. The Galapajin couldn’t have restrained her for five minutes if she hadn’t allowed them to. “Point made. What do you want?”
She tossed the flattened projectile into space. “I want to help you.”
“We don’t need your help.”
“You can’t fight the PLAN with Kalashnikovs.”
“We’ve got mines, too. You can’t see them, but they’re out there in orbit. I just have to arm the proximity fuses, and nothing’s getting nearer than five kilometers.”
“Which won’t do you a whole lot of good, since the PLAN’s preferred modus operandi is to stand off and throw nukes at people.”
“We won’t be sticking around for that.”
“Oh? I don’t see anything capable of evacuating thirty thousand people, unless those ships of yours are a lot closer than I estimate them to be.”
“Oh, come on, Jun Yonezawa,” she said softly. “The St. Francis and the Nagasaki. With names like that, it wasn’t hard to find them. The available data suggests they’re beaters. Unlicensed, uncertified, probably a century behind current specs. But if they’re capable of smuggling water from the Belt, they may be capable of mounting a pyrrhic defense against five PLAN ships. If you’re willing to sacrifice their fusion drives. If they’re here.”
Jun licked his lips. His suit flashed a HUD warning, telling him that his heart rate and oxygen consumption had spiked. He opened his mouth to deny everything. Then shrugged.
“We’re not self-sufficient yet. We still have to import water, stem cells, a few other things. So, yeah. My older brother is in charge of the water runs. He’s somewhere in the Belt right now, praying for us.”
Nine seconds. Eighteen seconds. The phavatar smiled. “I guess it’s up to us, then.”
“Sorry,” Jun said. “But I don’t see how you’re going to fight the PLAN with a cutter laser. I guess you could try catching their nukes with your bare hands.”
“Yonezawa Jun, I do believe you’re mocking me. But that’s OK. There’s no way you could know about my offensive capabilities. Even I didn’t know about all of them until half an hour ago.”
The phavatar raised her hands. Nozzles projected from invisible ports on her forearms and spat streams of plasma that arced high over the cathedral, twisting as the asteroid spun. Jun’s radio lit up with panicky queries from everyone who was watching an external sensor feed, which was a lot of people. The plasma ribbons ignited orbiting particles of space dust in a concatenation of tiny fireworks, and lopped off the top of the cathedral’s highest spire.
“Hey,” Jun shouted.
Nine seconds later the phavatar lowered her hands. She was smirking. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“It was just the phavatar,” Jun told his people. “Showing off her offensive capabilities.” He felt immensely weary, enervated by the idea that whatever the Galapajin did, it was because they were allowed to do it. How could independence ever be more than an illusion for them, in a universe that contained the likes of this?
“I’ve also got attitude thrusters,” the android said. “I can maneuver independently in space. And I’m supposed to be able to emit EM pulses strong enough to—”
She stopped speaking, jerked epileptically, and fell flat on her face.
To read the other chapters of THE GALAPAGOS INCIDENT, click here.